Venezuela could make life difficult for hot favourites Argentina in Sunday's quarter-final.
Things couldn’t have gone any better for Argentina so far, as they’ve been able to rotate their squad and even had the luxury of starting with Lionel Messi on the bench in every match. Now they’ve got the even bigger bonus of a quarter-final against Venezuela, rather than the expected clash with one of Mexico or Uruguay.
From Venezuela’s perspective this tournament is already a huge success, as after arriving with zero expectations they’ve beaten heavyweights Uruguay and almost completed a 100% record when they led Mexico until late on. Now up against the might of Argentina they have absolutely nothing to lose. They are also aided by an extra days rest and a shorter trip to this game, as La Albiceleste have to travel the breadth of the country from Seattle.
Venezuela have proven tough to break down in this tournament, as they’ve defied their critics, and conceded just once. The performances against Mexico and Uruguay were particularly impressive given we rank both in our top 10 and at last summer’s Copa they also beat top-10 Colombia while losing by just one goal to Brazil. However, they have a wretched record against Argentina, having lost 14 of 15 meetings since the start of the nineties with 12 defeats by more than one goal. Their extra day and easier journey could be significant though. Since 2011 there have been 23 Copa matches where one side had received extra days rest and they’ve gone W12-D8-L3, including a W4-D2-L1 record even when that side was the lower ranked team.
Argentina have now won seven consecutive matches while conceding just twice and since the start of 2014 they’ve gone W16-D3-L0 against teams from outside our top 20, with 13 wins to nil and 11 victories by more than one goal. Furthermore, that includes a W6-D1-L0 record from tournament matches. However, in their knockout matches at the 2014 World Cup and 2015 Copa they’ve played out five nil-nils in seven matches, with 6/7 having fewer than two goals. With penalties deciding things if it is all-square at 90 minutes there is a major incentive for Venezuela to play very defensively.
In Copa America quarter-finals since 1993, where there have been at least 20 ranking places between the teams, the better side has gone W7-D5-L0. This suggests Argentina are too short but five of the wins were by more than one goal and this is the largest ranking gap we’ve had in this time. Since 2008, 22 of 32 opening knock-out matches at Copas, Euros and World Cups, have had fewer than three goals while 19/32 have been level at half-time so don’t be surprised if this is tighter than expected.
Argentina have done an excellent job of rotating their players to keep as fresh as possible but the journeys will still have taken it out of them and if they win this match they only have three days to prepare for a semi-final in Houston. In that context they may look to conserve energy where possible, but Venezuela will be going all out for this game and having made life tough for other top teams so far in this tournament and last year we think they can continue to do so here. We’ll back them at -1.5 on the Asian Handicap but both the half-time draw and Under 2.5 Goals also appeal.
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